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text SPOILER ALERT! 2020-06-04 19:48
Reading progress update: I've read 221 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

(French text, maps and images below. / Texte français, cartes et images en bas.)

 

Well, consider me well and truly hooked at this point.  There are a few mighty convenient and improbable conincidences --

e.g., the "inner voice" that guides Nicolas to more or less effortlessly draw pretty much the entire plot out of a wily old madam, and ink-stained footprints showing the path that a ransacking intruder has taken through Descart's home

(spoiler show)

-- surely you could have done better than that M. Parot?  (I also could seriously have done without Nicolas's -- and the author's -- patronizing attitude towards Awa and her "decapitated rooster" fortune telling stunt.  And towards Catherine on that same occasion, for that matter.)  But at least we didn't also get the "[shocking things happening to the hero during a] dark and stormy night" cliché on the one occasion when the temptation to use it must have been huge, and I confess that both the action and the wealth of historical detail have rather drawn me in.  And it certainly helps to now also know why de Sartine felt he had to select an investigator from outside the ranks of the established police force (even if neither that nor Nicolas's quick understanding and intelligence completely accounts for quite such a young, inexperience choice).  By and large, though, I am really enjoying this book, and I am looking forward every day to the time I've set aside at night (and / or in the morning) for this buddy read.

 

That being said, even before reaching the book's halfway point -- what with the things that Nicolas had learned at the Dauphin couronné and from Antoinette, and the subsequent discoveries at Vaugirard -- it seemed to me that the mystery was pretty much solved,

and the only things remaining to be discovered at that point were the hiding place of the stolen papers, the exact role of Semacgus (if any), and the location of the final body to be found (which I'm sure we know at this point, too, even if Nicolas hasn't clued into it yet),

(spoiler show)

and I think so even more now that I'm slightly past the halfway point.  Can it really take another 150+ pages to unveil the rest of what we've yet to learn?  The Golden Age mystery writers published entire novels of not much more than that length ...

 

Final side note for now: I've learned a new verb -- "bastiller" (or "embastiller").  I was aware of the Bastille, of course, whose name, however, my mom's battered Petit Larousse informs me, derives from the erstwhile "bastir" ("bâtir" in modern French) -- so the name actually just denotes that it's a building -- whereas from the context it's clear that "(em)bastiller" means "to imprison".  So the Bastille, much more than even Le Châtelet and the Conciergerie, was synonymous with "prison", to the point that it, in turn, gave rise to the use of a corresponding verb.  Which then again, of course, only goes to underline why it played such a symbolic role in the French Revolution ...

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Eh bien, on peut me considérér entièrement captivée de l'action du livre à ce moment.  Il y eu quelques coïncidences assez bien convenientes et improbables,

telles que la "voix intérieure" qui guidait Nicolas à tirer, sans effort, plus ou moins le complot entier d'une rusée propriétaire de maison infâme, et les empreintes encrées signalant le chemin  pris par un pilleur pénétré à la maison de Descart

(spoiler show)

-- sûrement, vous auriez sait faire mieux que ça, M. Parot?  (J'aurais bien voulu renoncer aussi à l'attitude paternalisante de Nicolas -- et de l'auteur -- vis-à-vis Awa et son coup de prophésie au coq décapité.  Et, en ailleurs, vis-à-vis Catherine à la même occasion.)  Mais du moins on nous épargne le cliché "[des chocs souffert par le héros durant une] nuit sinistre et orageuse" au moment où la tentation de l'user doit avoir été la pire, et il me faut admettre que l'action autant que la richesse du détail historique m'ont bien sucée dans le livre.  Et bien sûr ce procès a été facilité aussi par le fait que maintenant nous savons pourquoi de Sartine le pensait indispensable de choisir un investigateur du dehors la police établie (même si ni ceci ni la compréhension rapide et l'intelligence de Nicolas expliquent entierement le choix d'un homme tellement jeune et inexpériencé).  Tout-en-un, pourtant, le livre me fait grand plaisir, et je me réjouie chaque jour au temps que j'ai réservé pour ce buddy read à la nuit (et / ou au matin).

 

Tout ceci étant dit, même avant d'avoir achevé la moitié du livre -- en vue de ce que Nicolas avait appris au Dauphin couronné et d'Antoinette, et ses découvertes suivantes à Vaugirard -- il me paraissait que le mystère était plus ou moins résolu,

et les seules choses à découvrir ètaient la cachette des papiers volés, le rôle exacte de Semacgus (s'il en avait un), et l'endroit du corps final à trouver (lequel je suis sûre nous connaissans déjà aussi à ce moment, bien que Nicolas ne l'ait pas encore entendu),

(spoiler show)

et je pense le même d'autant plus maintenant que j'aie lu un peu plus qu'à demi du livre.  Est-ce que ça prendra vraiment encore une 150e de pages de nous réveiller ce qui nous reste à découvrir?  Les auteurs des romans policiers de l'Âge Doré ont publié des romans entiers de pas trop plus que ce calibre ...

 

Commentaire marginal final pour le moment: J'ai appris un verbe nouveau -- "bastiller" (ou "embastiller").  Je connaissais La Bastille, naturellement, le nom de laquelle pourtant, le Petit Larousse battu de ma mère m'enseigne, descend de l'ancien "bastir" ("bâtir" en français moderne) -- donc son nom seulement dénote, en effet, qu'il s'agit d'un bâtiment -- pendant que du contexte c'est clair que "(em)bastiller" signifie "emprisonner".  Donc c'étail La Bastille, beaucoup plus que même Le Châtelet et la Conciergerie, qui était synonyme de "prison", au point d'engendre, en revanche, un verbe correspondant.  Tout ce qui, bien sûr, de son tour seulement va à souligner son rôle symbolique dans la Révolution française ...

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

One of Parot's historical notes contains a "by the way" reminder that Nicolas's boss, Antoine de Sartine, was a historical person; he really was the Paris Chief of Police (and, for all practical purposes, the city's true administrator) during the time in which this book is set.  He was reputed as a scrupulously fair and forward-thinking magistrate and a proponent of law and order, who however also didn't shy away from locking people up or taking other measures on the basis of "lettres de cachet" (unappealable extraordinary orders signed by the King or by himself), and who used a wide network of spies, both abroad and at home.  His reputation preceded him to such an extent that his help and advice was frequently also sought by foreign governments and police forces.  (According to Wikipedia, "once, a minister of Maria Theresa wrote to Sartine asking him to arrest a famous Austrian thief who was thought to be hiding in Paris. Sartine replied to the minister that the thief was actually in Vienna, and gave the minister the street address where the thief was hiding, as well as a description of the thief's disguise.")

 

At about the halfway point of our novel, Nicolas overhears a conversation between de Sartine and another official (whose identity remains undisclosed), which -- while chiefly about the disastrous French losses during the Seven Years' War and the role of Mme. de Pompadour -- also foreshadows de Sartine's later role as Secretary of State for the Navy and architect of the new French naval forces which, in decades to come, would prove such a formidable adversary to those of Great Britain.

 

The set of books above right shows de Sartine's coat of arms, with the representation of three sardines in the center (phonetically representing his name).

 

Pharaon (Faro) -- the popular card game mentioned repeatedly in the novel, especially in connection with the goings-on at the Dauphin couronné.  (Another repeatedly-mentioned game is Lansquenet.)

 

Nicolas would probably not recognize the Faubourg Saint-Honoré of today (the location of the Dauphin couronné in the novel) -- it, and especially the rue du Faubourg Honoré, is one of the most exclusive addresses of Paris nowadays, where haute couture, art galleries, embassies, and even the entrance of the Palais de l'Élysee are all sitting right next to each other. -- (For reference, on the map the "P" of "Paris" again represents the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville / formerly Place de Grève; Le Châtelet would have been just beyond the second bridge to the left of there.)

 

Église Saint-Eustache -- now and then, one of the unmissable sights in the Quartier des Halles -- and its location with reference to the novel's other key locations in the centre of Paris.

 

For those who are already at this point in the novel: the rue Montmartre is just north of the église Saint-Eustache and the Quartier des Halles.

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text 2020-06-01 17:45
Reading progress update: I've read 94 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

Expand for images.

 

(Images et texte français en bas.)

 

I'm at the end of chapter 4 now, and things are definitely getting interesting.

 

The first two chapters (not merely chapter 1) were basically exposition, designed to get across that Nicolas is alone in Paris, with nothing to call him back to Brittany and, on the other hand, his job keeping him busy in the capital and providing the key reason for him to remain there.  The second chapter (set in Brittany and explaining why he believes he's left it behind for good) was well-written, though, I thought.  And leaving aside my usual minor eye-roll at the fact that a young, personable recent ex-trainée is being put in charge of a major investigation (bypassing every single more senior professional), at least Nicolas isn't making a complete fool of himself -- and he is actually willing to listen to his more experienced second in command (whom he has asked to be put at his disposition to begin with), so props for that.

 

The action has caught up with (and moved on from) the scenes of the "official" prologue, which we now know happened on the night of Nicolas's arrival in Chartres (i.e., on the doorsteps of Paris) on his return from Brittany, and we now also know the identity of one of the corpses deposited on the road to La Villette -- and can at least guess at that of the second one.  And if I hadn't decided that just around noon was late enough to be getting up, I might actually have continued reading after all ... (which my cats would surely have preferred, seeing as it would have meant more cozy-up-with-mom-in-bed time for them).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Je viens de terminer le 4e chapitre, et les choses définitivement commencent à être intéressantes.

 

Les deux premiers chapitres (pas seulement le chapitre premier) principalement servent de mise en scène, et sont désignés de transmettrre l'idée de Nicolas seul à Paris, sans rien de le ramener à la Bretagne et, de l'autre côté, avec son métier fournissant son occupation et la raison principale pour lui de rester à la capitale.  Pourtant, le deuxième chapitre (qui se déroule en Bretagne et explique pourquoi Nicolas croit l'avoir quitté pour toujours) est bien écrit, je pense.  Et à part du fait que je suis, comme toujours, un peu énervée de voir un jeune et sympathique ex-apprenti récent mis en chef d'une investigation importante (en dépassant chacun des professionels avec plus d'expérience), du moins Nicolas ne se rend pas ridicule -- et il est même prêt à écouter aux conseils de son officier adjoint plus éprouvé (lequel Nicolas lui-même a demandé être mis à sa disposition), donc ça me rend content.

 

L'action a maintenant repris (et continué) des scènes du prologue *officiel" qui, on sait maintenant, s'est déroulé dans la nuit de l'arrivée de Nicolas à Chartres (c-à-d au seuil de Paris) durant son retour de Bretagne; et on connaît aussi maintenant l'identité d'un des cadavres déposés sur la route à La Villette -- et l'on peut du moins deviner celui du deuxième.  Et si je n'avais pas déterminé qu'il était déjà assez tard, au midi, de me lever, j'aurais bien pu continuer de lire ... (ce que mes chats sans doute auraient préféré, puisqu'il aurait signifié, pour eux, plus de temps de câliner au lit de maman).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Le Châtelet (destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century) and its location

 

Rue des  Blancs-Manteaux today (screenshot from Google Streetview) and its location -- Le Châtelet is in the lower left corner of the map, on the banks of the Seine.  The exact location of Lardin's house in the rue des Blancs-Manteaux is unclear, as the two side streets mentioned as reference points do not / no longer exist.

 

The locations of Vaugirard (in the southwest) and La Villette (in the northeast), both now incorporated into the city of Paris.  Châtelet is almost exactly halfway between both (former) villages where the "P" of "Paris" is on the map.  (Right-click on the image to see a larger version of the map.)

 


Map of La Villette (1730)

 


Map of Vaugirard (1805)

 

(Neither the present-day La Villette nor the present-day [Blvd. de] Vaugirard recall, even in the slightest, the erstwhile villages.)

 

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text 2020-05-31 16:01
Reading progress update: I've read 41 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

Buddy read en français avec / with Tannat & onnurtilraun.

 

(English text below.)

 

Et donc ça commence!  Comme d'Artagnan, Maigret, Valjean, Astérix et des nombreux autres protagonistes littéraires français (en tant comme, en ailleurs, La Pucelle, Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Sand, Marguerite de Navarre, Napoléon Bonaparte et beaucoup plus d'autres personnages historiques -- pour ne même pas parler du Mouron rouge; héro français fictif qui était après tout, en vérité anglais), notre protagoniste, Nicolas Le Floch, n'est pas né à Paris mais en province: La capitale doit affiner ces gens (eh bien, sauf Astérix, évidemment), mais elle ne les produit pas.  Nous sommes donc traités d'une autre entrée à la vie citadine aux yeux grands ouverts, et la rapide transformation d'un jeune homme naïf et peu formé en un professionel bien entraîné et sûr des exigences de son métier.  Pourtant, je suis contente que tout cela se déroule au premier chapitre qui en vérité sert de prologue additionel -- en plus du prologue "officiel" qui apparemment doit nous introduire à certains aspects du crime que formera le sujet de l'enquête de Nicolas -- et à la fin duquel Nicolas est déjà de nouveau en route vers sa Bretagne natale ... pour y accomplir quoi?  À voir au chapitre prochain, je pense ...

 

Des deux supérieurs de Nicolas que nous venons de rencontrer au premier chapitre, Sartine me paraît le plus intéressant (et franchement le plus sympathique).  Je n'ai pas de confiance en Lardin (ni en ailleurs sa femme).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So it begins!  Like d'Artagnan, Maigret, Valjean, Astérix, and numerous other French literary characters (as well as, incidentally, the Maid of Orleans, Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Sand, Marguerite de Navarre, Napoléon Bonaparte, and plenty of other historical personages -- not to mention the Scarlet Pimpernel, that fictional French hero who was, in reailty, of course an Englishman), our main character, Nicolas Le Floch, isn't a native Parisian but from the French provinces: The capital may refine these good folks (well, with the exception of Asterix, of course), but it doesn't actually bring them forth.  So we're treated to yet another wide-eyed entry into city life, and the rapid transformation of a nave and unschooled young man into a well-trained professional with a firm handle on the demands of his job.  I'm glad, though, that this is all taken care of in the very first chapter, which essentially serves as a second prologue -- in addition to the "official" prologue, which apparently introduces us to some of the aspects of the crime that Nicoals will be investigating -- and at the end of which Nicholas is already leaving Paris again for his native Brittany ... to do what?  We'll find out in the next chapter, I think ...

 

Of Nicolas's two bosses that we have met in the first chapter, I think Sartine is the more interesting one (also frankly the one I just like better).  I don't much trust Lardin (or his wife, for that matter).

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review 2020-05-03 16:43
Dickon
The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey,Derek Jacobi
The Daughter Of Time - Josephine Tey
Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey

This weekend's "let's-forget-the-pandemic" buddy read wasn't the first time I read Josephine Tey's setting-the-record-straight-about-Richard III novel, The Daughter of Time, but it was the first time that I did so by reading it together with her play on the same subject (written under the name Gordon Daviot), Dickon, and that combined reading changed my perspective on the novel yet again: not significantly, but in what I see as Tey's impetus in writing it.

 

To begin with, maybe I should call Dickon "her other play" on the subject, as I think Sorry kids, no feet nailed it when she said in a comment on one of Tannat's status updates that The Daughter of Time "read(s) like a play without actually being a play".  It actually is a play, with only one stage setting -- Grant's hotel room --, deliberately confining him (who becomes the audience's voice and brain) to that setting, depriving him of any and all other, and perhaps more conventional forms of entertainment right in the first chapter -- not without a few wry sidelines on the state of the literary art and industry of the day --, and thus neatly focusing his, and hence the reader's, attention on that one single thing remaining and apt enough to tease his brain: an investigation into an unsolved mystery of the past.  And of course, that hoary old chestnut, the fate of "the Princes in the Tower", will never do -- the investigation soon takes a completely different direction when Grant decides (very much like Ms. Tey herself, obviously) that Richard III's face and his reputation simply don't synch, and just how his name ended up on the list of history's greatest villains must thus urgently be looked into (and set right).

 

Dubious, overrated, and dated starting point ("face reading") aside, the real importance of Tey's book lies, of course, in the profound shattering of the reputation that Richard III had had until then, ever since he lost his life at Bosworth and the Tudors had the control of what history would eventually make of the reign of the last York Plantagenet king.  There had been previous attempts to set the record straight both in the 18th and the 19th century, but it arguably took Tey's deliberate choice of presenting the issue in the guise of a (well-researched) mass-marketed novel, in tandem with a stage play, to bring so much public attention to the matter that even well-known historic scholars could no longer ignore it -- and the debate has been alive and well ever since.  (Even the presentation at the Bosworth visitor center is now painstakingly neutral in its overall approach, though some of the exhibit's texts still clearly betray an anti-Ricardian bias.)

 

In The Daughter of Time, Tey presents the Tudors' campaign of blackening Richard III's name as only one, though a particularly grivous example of what she calls Tonypandy, for the town that was the focal point of the 1910-11 Welsh Miners' strike, and which has since become a subject of a similarly furious historic dispute: to Tey, "Tonypandy" is a summary term signifying any and all instances of falsified historic and political propaganda.  Yet, as her play Dickon shows, it's ultimately not "Tonypandy" at large that she is interested in but very much Richard III himself, in whom (and in whose features) she takes an enormous interest, reflected in Grant's comments and thoughts on his portrait in The Daughter of Time, as much as in her own passionate advocacy, both in the play and in the novel.

 

In fact, the play neatly distills the "Dickon" content of the novel down to its essentials and presents the events in question in their own, proper historical setting; refuting -- scene by scene -- Shakespeare's portrayal of the same events in his Richard III (or Tudor propaganda Exhibit A, as Tey saw it). And in one, perhaps the most endearing scene of the play, she has her Richard III do exactly what she expected of historians, and what Grant's American "woolly lamb" research assistant does in the novel: Tease out the minutiae of daily life from the records left behind; obtain your information straight from the source, instead of relying on hearsay accounts written only after the fact.  "All the stuff of Middleham is here.  All that I have missed", Richard tells his wife Anne when she wonders how he can possibly be so fascinated with their Yorkshire home's account books, even though she faithfully reports on everything that is going on while he is in London with his brother, the King.  "But you don't tell me that Betsy has been shod, that there is a new lock on the little east gate, that the dairy window was broken, that Kemp has had a boil on his neck," he answers.  "That is Middleham.  If I cannot live it, I can at least look at the picture." 

 

Some of the things that Tey considered Tudor propaganda have since been proven true; e.g., the discovery of Richard III's skeleton in that infamous Leicester parking lot has revealed that he really did have a spinal deformity and would thus have presented as a hunchback -- so the Tudors didn't need to lie about everything; they could also exploit features that their contemporaries would have been familiar with.  And other things, we will probably never know -- personally I doubt whether, even if the remains of the "Princes in the Tower" were now found, too (against all odds), centuries after their disappearance, that discovery would do much to clarify who engineered their disappearance and apparent murder (unless other instances would throw additional light on the issue at the same time).  But ultimately this is about more than the fates of Edward IV's sons; it's about truth in the historical record, about unbiased research, and about the value of primary (= direct) vs. secondary (= indirect) evidence / hearsay.

 

And whereas a reader interested in the period now may come to her (play-disguised-as-a-)novel (and her (other) play) with quite a different perspective on Richard III, his victorious rival Henry VII, and the period as such, the splash that her writing made upon its first publication can still be heard to this day.  For that in and of itself, her decision to take the issue out of the academic debate and into the realm of popular fiction can't be applauded loudly enough.

 


Bosworth: the battlefield today.

 


The Leicester parking lot where Richard III's remains were found.

 


Commemorative / explanatory plaque on a wall near the parking lot gates ...

 


... and an out-take of the above image: Richard III's skeleton



The parking lot is down a narrow alley from Leiceseter Cathedral

 


The Tomb in Leicester Cathedral



The gold-decorated chancel of Leicester Cathedral right behind the altar, where Richard's tomb is located

 


The coffin in which Richard's bones were carried into the cathedral for reburial (the cloth is hand-embroidered)

 

Tower of London: The round building center/left is the Bloody Tower, where King Edward IV's sons, today known simply as "the Princes in the Tower," are believed to have been held.

 

  
Bloody Tower: Exhibition on the disappearance of "the Princes in the Tower."

(All photos mine.)

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-04-26 18:25
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Tenant for Death - Cyril Hare

Well, it turns out RL kept me busy for much longer yesterday than I'd anticipated, so I really only got back to this book today.

 

That said, I truly enjoyed it -- even the fact that the murderer turned out to be the most obvious suspect, in the end, didn't bother me half as much as it had in An English Murder

I also like the fact that Hare lets the murderer choose his own destiny -- he is a likeable enough person; and clearly, though his motive doesn't justify taking the law into his own hands, it is more than understandable, and arguably the victim was actually by far the greater villain.

(spoiler show)

The more books I read by Hare, the more I find I'm coming to him less for a fiendishly-constructed mystery -- none of the three books I've read so far was exactly that -- but for his wry humor and incisive observation of people and society.  As for Mike, his technique of cutting from one scene to another, chapter by chapter, works well for me; much better than a linear narrative.  I (too) could have done with some of the two investigators' speculations on motive, means and opportunity -- particularly at a moment where, as a reader, you had to have been sleepwalking through the book not to have clued in to the solution, at least in its very broad outlines -- but by and large, this was yet another enjoyable read, and I'm definitely looking forward to continuing to explore Hare's fiction.

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